William Clark Gable had an interesting childhood, although the circumstances surrounding his birth were typical for an American hero in the Roaring Twenties. He was born to German parents William H. and Adeline Hershelman Gable on February 1, 1901, in Cadiz, Ohio. Sadly, he didn't know his mother well; she died when he was very young. His father remarried Jenny Dunlap, by whom he was raised, and Clark was so close to his (step)mother that growing up he was branded as a "Mama's boy."
Clark also had a different romantic history than most. As a young actor in the theater, he was engaged to a gifted young actress, Frances Dofler; however, afraid of losing a promising acting career and not wanting a family to tie him down, he broke the engagement. His first wife was Josephine Dillion, who was thirteen years Clark's senior and an accomplished actress and drama coach; he married her as a pupil of the theater, not for love. The marriage soon ended in divorce and soon after Clark married Rhea Langham. This marriage, too, was not for affection but for teaching and instruction, Rhea also being involved in the theater. Many people credit her with "inventing" Clark Gable. By this time, Clark had become well-known, and wherever he went, women swooned. Clark wanted to end his marriage with Rhea, but she refused because of his increasing popularity as an entertainer. Then Clark was offered the role of Rhett Butler in Gone With the Wind. He refused to accept the part until MGM Studios paid Rhea a divorce settlement. The subsequent role he played as a Southern gentleman in GWTW made him known worldwide.
His next, and supposedly happiest, marriage was to young, vivacious Carole Lombard, also a famous performer. Their marriage was based on pure devotion and Carole and Clark soon became one of "Hollywood's Most Beautiful Couples." Sadly, after an appearance in Indianapolis, Indiana, Carole's plane crashed on January 16, 1942, over Las Vegas, Nevada on Table Rock Mountain; no one survived the accident. His life torn apart by the death of his bride, Clark Gable joined the Miami Beach 8th Air Force Unit, "not expecting to come out again," but was dismissed after a few years of loyal service.
Clark's fourth wife was Lady Sylvia Ashley. They were married in Hawaii and planted a coconut tree at their wedding. After a year the marriage ended in divorce, but it is unknown whether or not the coconut tree flourished. Clark's fifth and final marriage was to Kathleen 'Kay' Spreckles, who had two children from a previous marriage, giving Clark the family he had always wanted. On November 16, 1961, Clark Gable died of angina, a major heart attack. His son John Clark Gable was born a few months after his father's death, Clark Gable's only son.
Clark Gable had many accomplishments during his lifetime. As a young man he appeared in a successful Broadway play, Machinal, in 1928. He furthered his acting career and became extremely popular among theater-goers. Clark didn't limit his talents to plays, though. In 1934, he won an Academy Award for his role in It Happened One Night. From then on, Clark was an American legend, the ideal image of the virile, adventurous American man. Of his roles, Clark once said, "The man I am playing is close to the country and the soil that he lives in. He loves it and it's all he's concerned about." Clark is most widely known today for his role as the dashing, rugged Rhett Butler in Gone With the Wing. For the film he was paid $1 million, the highest salary of any entertainer at the time.
In 1942, after the death of third wife Carole Lombard, Clark joined the Air Force, where he acquired several awards, including the Air Medal for his work as a World War II aerial gunner and the Distinguished Flying Cross, in addition to the standard wings received for service.
William Clark Gable still has an impact on today's entertainment industry almost half a century after his death. Today he is remembered as the perfect picture of life on the edge. Clark Gable was the first of many male entertainers to create the "tough guy" image impossible for the average boy to match. Another famous entertainer, Judy Garland, wrote and sang a song about him, Dear Mr. Gable, in which she related a common feeling about Clark Gable shared by moviegoers both then and now: "You know you make me love you." Whether playing the role of a two-timing gangster or a polished Southern gentleman, Clark Gable always acted his best, and because of his efforts, we have over ninety motion pictures to date starring "The King of Hollywood" to enjoy.